Dr Anita Perkins trekked with the Himalayan Trust to Everest Base Camp in 2018. She wrote this article for the Good Travel website.
Lahmo bizko dunga ai-yo!!! Long, medium-sized rock coming!! I am standing in a long line of people, relocating rocks on a building site with members of our kiwi group and our Nepali guides. On one of the first days of our trek we are trying to do our small bit toward helping to re-build a school in Chaurikharka village in the Everest Region. It has been largely decimated in the devastating 2015 Nepal earthquakes.
Learning a bit of Nepali language has helped turn a helpful, but slightly mundane stonemasonry task into a fun game, as we warn fellow stone passing line members of small, medium and large rocks coming. All along the trek, picking up chunks of language in Nepali and Sherpa helped to build a rapport with our generous, fun-loving but sometimes shy guides. Before long, we were also able to warn the guides that there were ‘yaks coming’! Or ‘mules coming!’ (see how we recycled the ‘coming’ vocab?).
It was in November 2017 that I signed up for a 19-day adventure to Nepal to hike to Everest Base Camp (5,380m) in a group of 25 kiwis. Sir Edmund Hilary’s charity, the Himalayan Trust, were the organisers and World Expeditions the guiding company. This was no ordinary trip. We were to reach Base Camp on the 65th anniversary of Tenzing Norgay and Edmund Hillary’s 1953 summit. My parents and one of my best friends, Lauren, all avid travellers, had been hiking in Nepal previously and rated it as one of their best ever trips. So, the ‘one day I’ll go there’ spark had been there for a long time.
While I’m relatively outdoorsy and a regular at gym classes, at first, I thought ‘Nah, that would just be for extreme adventurers.’ However, I soon found myself googling ‘how hard is the Everest Base Camp trek?’ Eventually, the spark turned into a booking. I was committed! (And for those who know me, once I sign myself up to something I’m all in!)
Before I left, I was concerned about my fitness and altitude sickness. However, the guides ascend very slowly so that you have a better chance to acclimatise. Yes, I got sick at the top, but it was not for long. There were some challenges like being cold at night, and having few showers. But we were in it together, and luckily, I got on very well with my lovely tent mate Katie, as we shared space while attempting to remove dirt from our faces with wet wipes and get up and going on cold mornings.
What really strikes you the most about being in the mountains in Nepal are first and foremost the people. Our leader Prasant, and all the other guides and people along the way were full of generosity and patience. Yes, there are helicopters, and yes there is Wi-Fi. But in some ways, it feels like life may be pretty similar to decades before. Basically, everything you see has been locally sourced or produced, or has been delivered on the back of a person or animal. You would see porters carrying impossibly large loads on their backs, some with bare feet or sandals, up the rocky paths to villages high in altitude. Meanwhile, we simply took our daypacks to the next stop, where our cooks had a hot, delicious meal already waiting for us. Talk about privilege!
Here are some aspects of my trip that appealed to me and made it GOOD:
- Before we left, we needed to fundraise or donate $1000 each toward the work of the Himalayan Trust in the Everest region. As a thanks, Kathmandu came to the party with a $250 gear voucher for each trekker. This meant that, aside from the adventure ahead, you were already thinking about the people who can benefit from your travel ahead of time, and learning about the awesome achievements Sir Ed made in the region. You soon learn that he was personally way more stoked with that experience in his life than being one of the first people to summit Everest.
- Our guides ensured that we got some amazing extras in our itinerary which really allowed us opportunities to engage with local people. This included friends and benefactors of the work of Edmund Hilary in the schools, tea houses and a local hospital he built and found overseas funding for. You could sense their passion for the mountains and their strong sense of social and environmental responsibility.
The group of New Zealanders on the trip ranged in age from early twenties to early seventies. Sometimes in one’s office job in Wellington it can feel like you meet only people from your age range and who are in policy, law or accounting. Part of GOOD travel can be mixing with others in your community and expanding your horizons a little with new perspectives.
It’s surprising how people rally around you when you are on a positive mission toward an adventurous goal. I had so many amazing friends accompany me on training weekend day walks and helping to organise and attend a movie night I held to fundraise. (As an aside, maybe try to avoid a rather sad movie for your fundraising event. ‘The Mercy’ about a man losing his mind in a yacht race while thought-provoking and well-acted, got me a bit of a reputation for picking a sad movie!!)
The Nepal experience continues to have other positive impacts on my life. I recently went hiking on the Kepler Great Walk with my fellow trekker friend, Jenna. She’s an energizer bunny who did the Milford, Routeburn and then Kepler in a row, and has been magnetised to the mountains following our trip. During the month of March, I participated in the Himalayan Trust Summit challenge with my friend Amy. Between the two of us, we climbed the equivalent elevation of the height of Mt Everest 8848m to raise money for the work of the Trust. For me, travel has often been about having adventures, expanding my horizons and experiencing new languages and cultures. Since the trip to Nepal, I now have reason to think more about the impact my travel might have on others, and to consider the social and environmental values of the companies I travel with in the choices I make.
If you’re pondering an adventurous trip in the near future, my advice is this: have a think about what draws you in terms of travel opportunities. Think about ways that your travel can include an element of giving back to people or the environment. You never know the places it might take you or the people you might meet. You never know the unexpected positive outcomes it might have for you and what’s to unfold next in your life.
Find out more about trekking with the Himalayan Trust to Everest Base Camp.